by Brittney Adams
According to the Center for Disease Control, about one-third of U.S. adults are obese.
Chris Downie has invested $5 million of his own money to help people avoid becoming part of this statistic. He created Sparkpeople.com as a goal setting website in 2001. However, he noticed that the majority of people’s goals were health and fitness related. The site is now one of the most rapidly growing weight loss, fitness, and nutrition sites. It is also one of the only free sites of its kind, due to advertisement funds and the contributions made by Downie. Often compared to Weight Watchers online and Dailyburn, the site continues to set itself apart.
“From joining a team that shares your interest to joining a team that shares your medical issues, Sparkpeople has anything you are looking for. You manage to find friends that are on the same journey to a healthier life,” said Anne Dawson. Anne and her husband Bobby have lost over 140 pounds together with the help of the site.
When asked how much the site contributed to her success, Anne replied, “Without Sparkpeople, I probably wouldn’t have lost the weight. It gave me the tools and knowledge on how to eat correctly and showed me how to live a healthy and happy life.”
The free access is the first aspect that college students and professionals alike should consider. Whether studying in between classes or having a lunch break at work, the site is easily accessible for people on the go. In addition to the website, there is also a free Sparkpeople app that users can download to their phone, which offers the same services as the site. The site and app allow users to log and track their nutrition, fitness, and weight loss. It also allows users to track goals related to habits such as smoking and alcohol consumption.
As busy students and workers, we do not always have the time to plan out our meals or go to the gym. Sparkpeople makes doing these things easier by providing users the option of following designated meal plans and exercise videos. These features can also be tracked. Once the user is done tracking their daily activity, a customized report can be run that displays how well they did and what they can do to live healthier.
Some of the tracking features on the site can be considered similar to those present on Dailyburn; however, Anne believes Sparkpeople’s is better. “The nutrition page isn’t about just writing down your calories for the day. It gives you menu plans that you can change to your specifications. It gives you many choices and teaches you the correct percentages of carbs, fats, and proteins.” Bobby agreed by adding, “They keep you honest and focused on what you should be doing; as long as you’re honest with what you put in, you cannot go wrong.”
The site also has an award system for tracking daily activities and setting goals. Once the user is logged-in, they are asked to spin a wheel. It is from this wheel and the activities done each day that gain the user SparkPoints. These points can be used to award other users with icons located on their SparkPage, a social media tool. This feature allows users to make a page that represents themselves and their goals, allowing others to follow their success and offer motivation. They pages they create can be searched by other members in order to find people with similar goals or interests.
The social media aspect of the site is one of Bobby’s favorite features. “I really like the friend feed because it can keep you updated with all of your friends.” The support system the site provides is the largest difference between Sparkpeople and its competitors. It also allows people of all ages to communicate easily.
Communities and teams allow members to interact with each other, discuss similar goals, everyday life, and offer motivation. Members are able to read articles written by topic experts, about nutrition and fitness. Members also have the option of asking the experts questions and receive timely responses. They are encouraged to spread the “spark” or motivation to others in their everyday lives.
In August 2011, Sparkpeople began working with Livemind in an effort to offer live classes aimed towards members with weight loss goals. This is the only part of the site that costs money and is completely optional. It is ideal for students or others who want to attend weekly meetings but are on a budget. At only $12 per month, the meetings are a fraction of the cost that Weight Watchers requires.
Members can attend an unlimited number of meetings perweek. Meetings are led by current Sparkpeople users, including Bobby and Anne. Dozens of meetings are held each week so that anyone who wants to attend can find a time slot suitable to their schedule. The leaders administer the meetings and discuss a predetermined topic with members each week. These leaders have accomplished goals; therefore, they have first-hand experience.
After each meeting, members are given a take home sheet they can download. It includes goals for them to complete during the following week. These goals range from creating a healthier version of a comfort food to drinking eight glasses of water per day. For those people who do not have any fitness or nutritional related goals, Sparkpeople has created several sister sites that provide help to teens, mothers, and those who just need some extra motivation.
All of these features are just a small portion of what the site has to offer. Every expert, member, and even the founder, genuinely care about how the site effects people’s lives. Sparkpeople continues to motivate people to become healthier and live life with goals. They are giving all people, regardless of age or economic standing, the tools they need to change their lives. It is with all of these “sparks” that we can avoid becoming just another U.S. statistic.
So the next time you consider following the next diet fad or reach for some junk food, remember that there is hope. “It is a lifestyle change, not a ‘diet’. It is applying everything Spark teaches you to your life and living it to its fullest,” said Anne.
For more information about Sparkpeople, please click here.